Wednesday, 23 November 2016

King Lear - A Return to the Stage

As Glenda Jackson has been working as an MP for the past 25 years, meaning I have never before had the opportunity to see her live on stage, so when I saw that she was playing Lear, I immediately booked a ticket.

Closer to the performance, more cast members were announced - Celia Imrie and Jane Horrocks as Goneril and Regan, respectively, Rhys Ifans as the fool, and Harry Melling as Edgar... 

It was an interesting production - it's in modern dress, with fairly minimal sets, and the practice which seems to be popular just now, of having cast members and stage hands on stage as the audience come in to the auditorium, and a blurring of lines between cast and crew.  

For much of the play, there is very little in the way of set, although this changes in the storm scenes, when  curtain of black plastic, together with lights and sound effects - very effective!

And the performance itself? 

Very very good, in parts, but uneven. 

Jackson's Lear is physically frail from the start, but terrifyingly powerful in every other way, an aging despot, whose mental state then gradually deteriorates during the play, showing the slow ruin of the old king more effectively than many Lears - her delivery of "O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven, Keep me in temper: I would not be mad!"  is heart-breaking. Lear is far from being a likeable character, but Jackson is an excellent Lear. 

Jane Horrocks and Celia Imrie as Regan and Goneril seem underused, for such excellent actors, and there was little sense of the daughters' frustration or the justifications for their treatment of their father, leaving them as slightly one-dimensional villains, which was a bit disappointing. Although they do get the chance to show their vamping skills in their scenes with Edmund (Simon Manyonda).

Edmund himself is full of energy and malevolence - he delivers his opening speech while working out, skipping, doing one-handed press-ups. And without it affecting his delivery of the speech at all, which is pretty impressive. However, as with other aspects of the production, having started well, the director goes  step too far, and we have a scene in which he bares his buttock (and they are, I admit, nice buttocks) to the audience while he has a quick wank. It seemed somewhat unnecessary.

Edgar (Harry Melling) is good, but he seem ineffectual in his early scenes, and the Dover scene, (not) on the cliff top seems a wasted opportunity.

Rhys Ifans is excellent as the Fool, and the relationship between him and Lear is one of the most convincing in the production, he comes over as genuinely attached to Lear, but unafraid to challenge him. And his little ad-libs - a snatch of Dylan on mouth-organ and a comment on Edgar's bin-bag couture which I am pretty sure isn't in the original text!

So, all in all, a good production with some great performances, but with some odd directorial choices. I mean, stamping in Gloucester's eyeball, properly wince-inducing. Throwing the second one into the stalls? Not so much. 

4 out of 5 stars from me! Well worth seeing. And on until 3rd December (And there is a radio adaptation to be recorded and broadcast by the BBC on Boxing Day, if you can't make it to London)

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